vacation

Who knew M&Ms could wrap?

While in Toulouse, FroMan invited me to join him and his friends for supper. I had a great time. Somehow, while discussing Ramadan, multiculturalism and the pros/cons of accommodating vs assimilating vs integrating minorities into society, CAD vs Southern French weather, Trump, kizomba, sleep patterns, work, hair styling, annoying neighbors, I found myself on a rant about how Eminem is the greatest rapper of all time. Yes, Kendrick Lamar is an artiste, but Eminem! Eminem is just in a different class. True, he does not speak to the struggle and plight of a specific demographic; rather, he owns the individuality of his emotions, which can broaden his audience because emotions are universal and do not depend on specific circumstances. His lyrics are a form of vulnerability, and while he can be ugly, shocking, so angry and violent, his honesty is refreshing and is what allows his auditors to relate so strongly to him. His musicality is not lesser than Kendrick’s and… and somewhere after the 5th minute of my monologue, I noticed a blank look around the table.

Tentatively, I asked… y’all DO know Eminem, right? Oui, bien sûr. M&Ms. No. Eminem, bro, the rapper. You guys know who he is, in France, right?! Oui, we call him M&Ms here. M&Ms… as in the candy? Oui.

FroMan continued, “He’s the dude that sang, I’m Slim Shady yes I’m the real Shady all you other Slim Shadies are just imitating…” No. NON. Arrête. STOP IT. THAT is what you associate with Eminem? Not Rap God, where he raps 1560 words within 6:04 minutes, averaging 4.28 words per second? Not “mom’s spaghetti”, the lyric that spawned some of the most ludicrous memes ever, and is the reason why he won an Oscar? Not Love the Way You Lie, a song so powerful that even though radios overplayed it more than Despacito, it never got ruined and was a catalyst in lessening the taboo around domestic abuse, bringing that important topic out into the open?  Not any of his early underground freestyle rapping? Not that he is the only person in the world that can rhyme “orange” with “porridge”? Like seriously, watch this:

Y’all. Eminem is a wordsmith. A modern day poet. A genius.

FroMan listened to my outraged exclamations in silence for several seconds. Possibly a full minute.

Tu réalises qu’il rap en anglais, oui? On ne comprend pas ce qu’il dit.

You do realize he raps in English, yes? We don’t understand what he’s saying.

So, I asked, how do you distinguish good music from bad? You guys are French! The epitome of good taste! If you don’t understand the lyrics, what do you do? Just listen to the beat, the groove and the melody? WAIT, YOU GUYS DON’T THINK JUSTIN BIEBER IS GOOD MUSIC, DO YOU?! “En fait, il n’est vraiment pas si pire, le petit Bieber. Son album est très propre./ Actually, he really isn’t that bad, that little Bieberito. His album is quite on point.”

OMG.

OH MMMMMMMMMMMMMMMM GEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE.

I cannot live in a world where Eminem is less appreciated than Bieber.

It occurred to me to suggest FroMan use Google Translate, much like I did to understand how ridiculously over-the-top kizomba lyrics can be (for a prime example,  check out this music video of one of my favourite songs, Vai by Calema. Stirring music, heartbreak, but whyyyyyyyy must he flop about like a goldfish in a puddle of mud? That won’t make her come back to you, bro, and significantly decreases your odds of landing yourself a rebound chick.) But Google’s habit of mildly inaccurate translations (“Pinch me now, yes/ Good afternoon, no/ You are very crazy/ Kiss me in the mouth“) can’t do justice to Eminem’s wordplay. The site Genius is the way to go… but even so, Eminem’s greatness is rather dependent on one’s fluency in English.

How sad. How very sad. FroMan’s life, and that of most of the world’s population, is incomplete.

#noiamnotbeingadramaqueenATM

#Eminemisbae

#andthisiswhytravelisimportant #myhorizonsjustgotexpandedAF

 

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“You’ve got nothing to lose”

“You’ve got nothing to lose.” My father’s excellent pun, in reaction to my announcement that I was going to Toulouse this past June.

Every time work sends me to Paris, I tack on 1-2 weekends in Europe, to explore new cities on my bucket list. So of course, when I found out back in April that work would be sending me to Paris in June, I scouted cities to turn this into a proper bday workation. Top destination: Toulouse.

Now comes the tricky part. Why Toulouse? Well, it is a popular tourist destination and it is in Southern France, a geographical region I’ve oft heard of but never visited. But also? FroMan lives in Toulouse, so why not take this opportunity to check off a new city off my list and visit my new friend from Dubai?

For months, my brain had a field day.

Creeper! Stalker! He’s gonna find you weeeeird. He’ll probably avoid seeing you. Dubai was MONTHS ago. Yes yes, he improved your dancing, you felt safe enough for a major breakthrough in vulnerability. You are entitled to be grateful for that – though he likely was acting out of kindness to a lonely, stranded, socially awkward girl – but wtv. Why are you pushing this? Some stories are only meant to last 4 days. You’re just setting yourself up for humiliating disappointment. Remember that time a guy drove up from NYC just to see you? How freaked out you were, and how much of a trainwreck that whole episode was? HE LIVED ON THE SAME CONTINENT AS YOU. Extrapolate that across the Atlantic Ocean, if you want an idea of how pathetic FroMan will find you. Don’t do this.

Fuck you, brain.

I asked myself what I would do, if it were not for my fear of judgment. The answer was easy: go to Toulouse. I wanted to see that city, and I wanted the opportunity to see the person who unwittingly played a huge role in my newfound capacity for happiness on and off the dance floor.

2 weeks before getting on the plane, I messaged FroMan to advise him of my plans to visit his city and hoped he’d be free for a coffee/drinks/supper during the 3.5 days I’d be there. He was happy to hear from me, and suggested I consider attending a dance festival in Nîmes the following weekend. Just like that, my 2nd annual bday workation in France was all set. Easy-peasy.

Was it awkward? Yeah, definitely. He said a few comments that implied that my paranoid brain wasn’t so off. I had trouble talking to him; not from an absence of things to say, but from a paralyzing fear of being judged. To infrequent blog readers and real-life acquaintances I frequently come across as a high-strung overly-emotional drama queen with an excess of sensibility that talks about her feelings too much. Which isn’t wrong, precisely. But that easily gets interpreted as vulgar and self-indulgent.

But.

I had a great time. I spent my days exploring Toulouse alone, as that was always my stated purpose of this trip: its my favorite way to discover a new city. In the evenings FroMan took me dancing (#kizombalife) and invited me to supper with his friends, with whom I had so much fun they invited me to join them for supper the next day without FroMan. By the end of my 4 days, I was sure of one thing: he is a real friend. That certainty I felt in Dubai that he is a solid person & I ought to include him in my life, for good things are sure to follow? Still true. This trip merely allowed us to play catchup: Dubai gave us the connection, but the foundations of a real friendship were laid during this trip. By the time I saw him the following weekend in Nîmes, easy familiar banter had replaced the awkward silences of Toulouse.

You’ve got nothing to lose. Had I listened to my brain, and worried too much about perception, I would have never gone on this trip. And I would never have successfully turned a brief connection & handful of happy memories into a real friendship. Good people are hard to come by. It’s worth taking a risk or two, living through some momentary discomfort, to keep them in one’s life.

Especially when they live in as beautiful places as Toulouse. #chooseyourfriendswisely

 

P.S. 2 other instructors I’d met & adored in Dubai realized their visit to Paris would overlap mine for 1.5 days. They reached out to me, hoping we could meet up. Did I think it was weird, or suspect that their kindness towards me in Dubai had been only born of pity? No. I was delighted to hear from them, and it was with mutual regret that our schedules didn’t match up. Lesson learned: embrace and foster the healthy true connections I’m lucky enough to stumble upon. Those are the best gifts from the Universe.

 

 

I’m a creature of habit

This time last year, I was getting ready for a hybrid work-pleasure trip to France for my 3rd 30th bday. Today, I’m sitting at my desk, watching my inbox fill-up with reminders of my impending trip to France that begins tomorrow.

  • 4 days in Toulouse (pleasure – sight-seeing à la touriste)
  • 4 days in Paris (work)
  • 2.5 days in Nîmes (pleasure – a mini dance festival)

I’m really digging work’s habit of sending me to France around my bday. This is a habit I am embracing wholeheartedly – may it continue for as long as I turn 30.

Like last year, I intend on cramming all of my clothes into 2 carry-on bags, to facilitate flopping about cities. Like every trip ever, my plane is leaving in 24 hours and I haven’t started packing. I haven’t even done laundry. I’ve no idea what to bring, the weather, anything. Will I rush home after work, and get cracking? Nah. Dance class, y’all. No way I am skipping my weekly 4-5 hour dose of kizomba. #priorities Will I have an exhausted meltdown tonight, as I try finish packing at 1 or 2am? You know it. #thepoweroftradition

Still…

I’m hyper. What else is new?

My facial expressions are not correlated to my happiness levels

Finally! The official photographer from the Dubai festival uploaded his pics onto Fbk yesterday! It turns out that I look like a prissy know-it-all when I dance. Yippee. This pic however, I enjoy. You can see traces of the prissiness, but really that’s just my look of intense concentration/mild panic, mixed with enjoyment and satisfaction.

photo cred: Farantini, the amazing photographer of all kizomba events @http://www.farantini.com/

When I first danced with that guy on Day 1 of the festival – hands down, one of my favorite leads ever! He can make me DO things!! – he surprised me by pulling that move. I didn’t expect it, the sudden falling forward, so maybe definitely I screeched. Loudly – I don’t have an indoor voice even when I try. Classic dance styling option: startle your partner into almost dropping you. Imma trademark that, stat.

Notice how my mouth is closed this time? That’s what 4 days of non-stop dancing will produce: no more hearing-loss for my dance partners.


Cue many minutes of total non-productivity, as I perused through all those pics, bringing back small moments I’d already forgotten.

It’s the “bringing back” part that I struggle with. When I first got back to Montreal, I didn’t want to let go of the intense happiness I’d felt in Dubai. I made the mistake of assuming everything I associated with this trip – including the friendships and all emotions – must be in the past, distinct from my present. And that is true, kinda.

This Dubai trip proved to me that I have the capacity to feel happiness, and the capacity to dream. I created deep bonds with friends, both new and old; these friendships changed me, as all love and shared experiences must. Therefore, who I am today, post-trip, is different than who I was pre-trip, because of the people that I met in Dubai. My anxiety lied to me last week: it is false to assume that all these lovely people are continuing to live their lives, without me, and I without them. We all bear the marks of each others’ influence, stemming from those moments of intersection. That eternal connectivity is just as true as the physical truth that we all apart now, sprinkled across the world.

If I can feel that grateful and connected to the people I spent 4-8 days with, perhaps, maybe, I should refocus my gratitude on those that I share my daily life with? There are so many opportunities for happiness in my Montreal life, that I frequently don’t notice, distracted by the noise that is adulting. Like my Baba taught me: “give us this day our daily bread”. That means my happiness is not stuck in the past, nor is it tied to the outcome of goals set in the future. Happiness is felt in the now, if I will but let myself be open to it. It can be found in my #dreamteam that smiles when they see me, and care and worry about me as much as I try mentor them. In the zany disorganization of Teacher’s dance classes. In the grey weather that is starting to show green tinges of summer. In a good workout with Coach and my gym crew. In my favorite ice cream parlor opening on Sunday for the spring-summer season. In a Friday-night supper with my friend & her fam that I haven’t seen in a few months. In the satisfaction of knowing that I did a good day’s work, boring accountant-style.

Dubai taught me I can be happier than I ever thought possible.

Montreal will teach me to enjoy every day that I build a life of happiness for myself.

Them happiness goals tho!

#beherenow

Dancefloor drama

Day 2 (Thursday) of the kizomba festival.

I danced with FroMan for 4-5 consecutive songs. He gave me a lot of (kind) constructive criticism. Every second step warranted feedback. Then every step. Then my basic posture. I was basically receiving a private lesson from a talented patient instructor, this was great! It did not feel great. It felt like I was a shit dancer wasting his time at a party. These negative thoughts distracted me from actually following his lead, such that I flubbed up the most basic moves. At the end of dance FroMan checked if I was ok. I thanked him, apologized for my anxious brain, told him I was grateful. Social disaster avoided.

Next, Energizer asked me to dance. I gratefully accepted – Energizer is an endless bundle of happy energy, always smiling and laughing. The first 30 seconds went well. Then, he made a comment about an issue that FroMan had worked so hard to correct. More dancing. Another comment. Dancing, comments, dancing, comments, dancing, comments. I was horrified: all these months, I’ve been a shitty follower, making the lives of my partners miserable, why has nobody ever said anything, how embarrassing, this is awful, I just want to take a nap. Interspersed with his comments were short intervals of actual dancing, where Energizer would laugh. The first time, I ignored him. The second time, I was hurt – what are you doing laughing at me, bro?! The third time, I lost my temper and walked off the dance floor.

I flounced to a nearby chair, fighting back tears of misery. Energizer appeared in front of me.

WTH Vanilla. In ALL my years as a professional dancer, NO ONE has EVER walked away from me mid-song. I was having fun! WHY would you do that? Because I LAUGHED? Vanilla, I laugh when I am having FUN. NOBODY has ever stranded me on the dance floor before because I laugh. I wasn’t laughing at you, why would you think that?

Teachable moment: when overwhelmed, do NOT ditch an internationally acclaimed artist on the dance floor. Don’t do it. It won’t go down well.

I apologized profusely, ashamed at my lapse in manners. Energizer calmed down, seeing that I was very remorseful. He gave me a drink. FroMan walked by and laughed – explaining how he’d unintentionally contributed to my high-strung state. Energizer was still jokingly berating me when a non-artist asked me to dance. Eager to escape this self-imposed drama, I accepted. Mid-way through the song, my partner told me, “I really enjoy dancing with you. Would you mind if I gave you some feedback?” 

OKAY UNIVERSE. I GET IT. I need feedback. Can you quit beating me over the head with a sledgehammer?!?!

Day 3 (Friday) of the kizomba festival

Energizer spent the day teasing me. I apologized 200 times. Energizer’s dance partner, Sunshiney, laughed till she cried when she heard the story, imagining how pissed he must have been. She high-fived me, something Energizer ignored with dignity.

At the party that night, every time Energizer changed partners, he’d manoeuvre her so as to dance by me, no matter where I was in the room. As he’d twirl her past me, he would smirk, “Notice Vanilla how SHE isn’t walking away from me, leaving me stranded on the dance floor? SOME girls enjoy dancing with me, you see.”

Every. Single. Girl.

Day 4 (Saturday) of the kizomba festival

Different venue, with weaker air conditioning. I was taking a break to cool off, when one of the instructors asked me to dance. I warned him that I was mildly overheated. He didn’t care. Off we went.

Some dancers make me nervous. I get intimidated, the hamster reel in my head goes haywire, it happens. This guy was one of them. When I’m stressed, I get sweaty – biology 101. Half-way through our 2nd song, a drop of sweat fell from my hair straight down onto his arm on my back. He pulled back to look at me,

You weren’t joking when you said you were hot. You will make ME hot. You will make me SWEATY. Girl, you can’t be doing that, I’ve a plane to catch.

And he walked off the dance floor.

It took me a few minutes to track down Energizer, to share this story. He gleefully laughed AT me, told me we were finally even, and danced with me.

#howtomakefriends101

#myinternationalreputation


Recap of this trip so far:

Where I test out this whole ‘solocation vs social anxiety’ concept

Day 1 (Wednesday) of the kizomba festival. I was prepared. There weren’t that many people – more of a warmup for the weekend parties (weekends in Dubai are Friday/Saturday; Thursday = our TGIF). Perfect: less reason to feel nervous. Workshops went alright. But then the open freestyle dance party started. I danced with 2-3 guys that I had trouble following, and my confidence wavered. After a dance where I couldn’t execute a basic cha-cha – my partner walked me through the move like I was a beginner – I questioned my presence at the event. More people arrived. They danced well. I missed Teacher, and his familiar brand of crazy. Nobody here was crazy. They were good, I was bad, I didn’t belong, I shouldn’t have come. Cue a full-blown anxiety attack. I disappeared to my hotel room, and cried/did breathing exercises for 30 mins. I considered calling it a night and going to bed. Then I imagined Teacher finding out – he would not be impressed if I quit. So back to the party I went.

Y’all.

I had so much fun. Unbeknownst to me, several of the artists crashed the party – suddenly I wasn’t struggling to follow as much. I found a few non-artist guys with whom I clicked. I was dancing. And then… the DJ put on afrohouse and one of the artists lead the crowd in one big group dance. I was in my element. As is wont to happen, mid-way through the song the artist wanted someone else to lead the crowd. He looked around, and pulled/pushed whiter-than-white Vanilla to the front. I lead the room for 10-15 seconds, before giving my spot to another instructor! I improvised Afrohouse! ME! And I did good: when I busted out one of my favorite moves (“pengua”) the artist ran up to me, gave me a high five and followed my steps. That was one of the coolest/scariest things I’ve ever done.

The party ended at 3am. An instructor, upon learning that I was staying at the hotel alone, voluntold me to host the afterparty. Just like that, I found myself with 15 strangers in my room, dancing, drinking and chatting until 8am. For someone who was scared of being alone at this festival, I sure seemed to be doing a good job meeting people.#socialanxietywin

After catching a few hours sleep, I messaged FroMan, an instructor; during the afterparty, my gut had decided this is someone I’ll be friends with, and luckily for me, he seemed quite ok with that decision. Easy-peasy: Day 2 afternoon spent with Froman and 2 other instructors, Energizer and Sunshiney, laughing/chilling/relaxing in the hotel pool, the sauna & steam room. (Incidentally, saunas are my favorite weight loss tool when travelling: I swear, I sweated out 75% of all my bloat caused by excessive eating on this trip. I felt SO much more comfortable in my body after that!) When it was time for us to go back to our hotel rooms to prep for the evening workshops and dance party, we opted for the lazy option of staying in our bathing suits, with the beach towels wrapped around us for modesty. #whatcouldpossiblygowrongintheshortdistancefrompooltoroom

My room key did not work.

Nothing is pleasanter than going down to a crowded hotel lobby, in one’s bikini and a beach towel, sweaty hair plastered to one’s head, face neon pink from the sauna. In Dubai.  As I stood waiting in line for the front desk, the festival’s organizer noticed me, and dragged me to meet a bunch of 8-10 artists, recently arrived, “Hi guys! Meet Vanilla! She is Teacher’s student, and as you know, he isn’t coming, so she doesn’t know anyone here.” And like a butterfly, she fluttered away, leaving me to face them alone. There they were. Exhausted, jet-lagged, annoyed at having to wait for their hotel rooms. Also, beautiful, stylish, and y’know, clothed. There I was, a wet, red tomato wrapped in a towel. Did I make things better, with smooth small talk and witty banter? No. 100% of the noises coming out of my mouth were incoherent babble. #FML The hotel re-magnetized my key. I went back to my room. My key still didn’t work. Back down to the lobby I went (ignoring the amused glances of those artists). This time the hotel sent an employee with me to assist me. Turns out… I wasn’t turning the handle the entire way, which is why my door wouldn’t open. The hotel staff was very understanding. It took me an hour to stop blushing from mortification.

#socialanxietyrollercoaster

#andthatwasonlythebeginning


Recap of this trip so far:

I didn’t know vacations could make me so happy

It’s 3am on Monday morning. I’m sitting in the Dubai DXB airport, waiting to board the first of my 3 flights & 24 hour journey back to Montréal. I’m running on 14 hours sleep over the last 4 days – the dance festival kept me busy, too busy to sleep or write! 

It’s gonna take me several posts to catch up on all the stories, revelations and feelings that this Dubai trip generated. Right now, I’m bursting with gratitude. I didn’t expect this trip to be overflowing with love. Yet, everywhere, from random restaurants, to Bossman and IronSweetie or strangers at the dance festival that have secured spots as friends for life… everywhere I saw moments of love and opportunities for happiness.

6 months ago was the first time I considered my right to aim for happiness. This trip proves to me that happiness is no longer a wobbly concept. I like being happy. 

The goal of this trip was to avoid the imminent burnout, and recharge my batteries. Without doubt, objective achieved, and surpassed: I achieved joy this past week. 

I hope I sleep on the plane.